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Toxic Work Friendships: How to Spot Them and End Them Without Hurting Your Job

S. Davies believes relationships should be built on mutual respect. She gives talks and workshops on cultivating good career connections.

Learn how to handle toxic work friendships in a professional manner.

Learn how to handle toxic work friendships in a professional manner.

People who work outside of the home can spend anywhere from 5 to 50 hours a week alongside their coworkers. Unless you are totally isolated from other people, you’ll likely develop some office friendships. Your work friends may not be as close to you as your best friends in your after-hours life, but getting along and being friendly with your peers on the job can make the workday more fun and enjoyable.

But what do you do if one of those work relationships starts to become troublesome? Perhaps you’ve noticed a change in the way you and your work friend connect. If you feel like something just doesn’t feel right, it could be that your work friendship has become toxic and unhealthy. If things have been feeling off lately, here are some signs that your working relationship is becoming toxic.

4 Signs of a Toxic Work Friendship

The items listed below may be red flags that your relationship with a workplace buddy might not be all that healthy.

1. They Gossip About Other People and Try to Pull You Into Their Own Conflicts With Other Coworkers

Its one thing to ask a friend at work to listen to you when you’ve had a bad day or you feel that you’ve been mistreated by someone else, but when they turn a misunderstanding into a full-on beef with one of the other people you work with, tread carefully.

When they expect you to take sides, they're asking you to dismiss the professional working relationships you’ve built. They're putting you in a position that could make it difficult to maintain professional boundaries and collegial relations with your peers. A healthy friend at work doesn’t ask you to sacrifice your other work relationships.

It can be extremely stressful to have a toxic friendship in the workplace.

It can be extremely stressful to have a toxic friendship in the workplace.

2. They Tease You in Front of Your Boss

Calling you names (even if they are pet names), reminding you out loud of your most embarrassing moments, or speaking to you sarcastically in front of your supervisor is rude and disrespectful.

If they insist that they're just telling inside jokes or trying to be funny even after you’ve asked them to stop, be mindful of what you share with them going forward. True friends don’t treat each other that way in the workplace or after hours at home.

A poisonous friend makes everything about herself.

A poisonous friend makes everything about herself.

3. They Lack Humility

Do they let you take the blame when things go wrong but always take the credit when things go well? Do they rarely apologize for the mistakes they make and lack the self-awareness to see how their actions are impacting you and others?

If you feel like your work friend is treating you unfairly, ask yourself what it is that is keeping you connected to them. One of the things about toxic relationships—at work or in our personal lives—is that they often involve a certain level of co-dependency.

4. They Can't (or Won't) Celebrate Your Successes With You

When something good happens to you at work, sincere friends are happy for you. Toxic friends may minimize your success, fail to congratulate you, or try to one-up your good news with an announcement of their own.

There are better ways to deal with a toxic friend at work instead of just ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.

There are better ways to deal with a toxic friend at work instead of just ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away.

How to Deal with a Toxic Friend at Work Without Making Things Awkward

Unlike difficult friendships in your personal life that you can walk away from, bad relationships at work can be harder to detach yourself from. You are both there to earn a living, so it’s inevitable that you will still have to spend time together—even if you’d rather not.

  • Be mindful of how you are communicating. What message are you sending when you share personal details of your own life with them? What signal are you putting out there when you give away your precious time to let them complain about others? Toxic friendships don't happen on their own. It's worth doing a little bit of personal self-reflection too while you work on extracting yourself from the relationship.
  • Get comfortable asserting yourself. One of the reasons toxic friendships tend to thrive even when they cause pain and stress is that one or both parties in the relationship haven't been assertive in setting boundaries.
  • Re-direct. Find ways to re-direct conversations that make you uncomfortable.
  • Be empathetic and respectful. They have feelings too, and perhaps they may not even know or realize that things have gone off the rails for the two of you. Due to personal life circumstances, a rough childhood, or other adverse events, some people end up in an endless cycle of one toxic relationship after another without ever understanding why.
  • Keep busy. Consider initiating an exciting solo project at work or joining a committee. Doing so will give you a chance to regain your sense of independence and autonomy and create an opportunity for you to find pride and joy in doing meaningful work.
  • Don't go out of your way to avoid them. Ghosting someone or cutting them off completely at work is neither a practical nor professional way of dealing with a toxic friendship.
  • Find healthy ways to manage your stress at work. Instead of turning to your workmate when you want to vent, find other healthy ways to cope with stressful situations so that the temptation to gossip and carry on destructive conversations is nixed.
  • Give yourself time. You're allowed to grieve the loss of what was once a vibrant and friendly work relationship.
  • Review your social media connections, and, if necessary, find ways to limit what you share with one another. You don't need to unfriend them on Facebook—that might be too jarring—but you could change your privacy settings so that they can't see as much of your activity as they could before.


"Is Your Friendship Toxic?" Canadian Living Magazine. March, 2018.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 S Davies


Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 05, 2018:

Interesting stuff. Good to pay attention to.